Portsmouth native spins comedy out of softball past
PORTSMOUTH — Sarah McLean was a softball star in her days at Portsmouth High School before going on to become an assistant coach at the school.
Now she's parlaying that experience into "3 Strikes," a new comedy web series about a suspended softball player with anger issues who's forced to move back with her parents after college and coach at her old high school.
Art imitating life?
The part about moving back with her parents after college is true, Ms. McLean said, but she'll leave it up to others to judge her temperament.
"If you asked people I played with or coached if I had anger issues, they'd probably say, 'Yeah, that seems about right,'" Ms. McLean said from her home in Los Angeles last week. "But I was never suspended or anything. Whether I have anger issues remains to be seen."
The web series, which she described as embodying the fun and playfulness of "A League of Their Own" with "also a bit of 'The Bad News Bears' thrown in for good measure," has completed filming on its first season, and a crowd-funding campaign to make it a reality is being launched Oct. 1. She hopes the series — nine episodes of five minutes each to be streamed at www.3strikestheseries.com — will kick off at the end of next March or the beginning of April, "when softball season begins."
"I have a story that I want to tell and it's going to be told in three seasons; this is the first part," said Ms. McLean, adding that the series' length will largely depend on funding.
The 32-year-old grew up in Portsmouth and played on the PHS softball team before graduating in 1999. "I was pretty good. I started at shortstop and second base, all four years of high school. I got some recognition and awards," said Ms. McLean, who plays in a slow-pitch league now "to stay in shape." (She also played on the girls' tennis team and taught that sport for Portsmouth Action for Youth.)
From 2004 to 2009 she was an assistant softball coach at PHS, an experience she mined for many of the stories in "3 Strikes." Ms. McLean said she doesn't know of any other show or series that shines a light on the softball community.
"It's just interesting that all you ever hear about is male sports, which has a different dynamic than the girls," she said. "No one seems to cater to girls' sports. To be able to create something that's targeting that — and to cast some of my friends, who are all wonderful — feels really good."
One of those friends is Debbie Friedman, a series regular and Barrington native.
"It's smart, it's funny and it's truthful," said Ms. Friedman, now an actor, improviser and storyteller who also lives in Los Angeles. "I grew up playing softball; it's so great to see those stories being told."
No entertainment background
Ms. Friedman and Ms. McLean are also part of a four-woman comedy improv team called Danger Snack that performs regularly at iO West, the Los Angeles branch of the iO Chicago improv theater. Ms. McLean went through iO West's training program and formed the group only a month later, she said. Up until then, she had no background in the entertainment industry.
"I love watching TV, but other than that there wasn't something I thought I could do," she said.
She got her first taste of theater while attending University of Southern Maine in Portland, where she played both softball and tennis.
"I was going through the college requirements and I needed a fine arts credit like public speaking or acting — and I knew I wasn't going to do public speaking," she said.
A light went off in her head when she started taking acting classes. "I actually thought I was pretty good, and I enjoy making people laugh," she said.
Following college, and after moving back with her parents, of course, Ms. McLean decided to take a big gamble and move to the West Coast to pursue her new dream of becoming an actor and writer. When she felt she had raised enough money, she left for L.A. on her own. That was four years ago.
"I literally knew no one out here. People I talk to always say, 'You really did that?' But what was I supposed to do?," said Ms. McLean, who also works as a promotions assistant for a classic-rock radio station.
Web vs. TV
Ms. McLean said she would be open to develop either "3 Strikes" or a different series for television, but for now she'd like to stick with the web series format. Some typical web episodes are just a few minutes, while others attract sponsors and are 30 to 60 minutes long, she said.
"It's a really booming thing right now. But it's like the Wild Wild West; we're trying to still figure it out," said Ms. McLean.
While she believes "3 Strikes" is the only scripted show dealing directly with the softball community, Ms. McLean says it's also relatable to non-athletes.
"The thing about '3 Strikes' is, while yes it's geared toward softball players, and to a lesser extent female athletes, the characters in the show and the actions they take are universally relatable to athletes who play other sports and to non-athletes as well. You don't have to be an athlete to understand it or find it funny."
Beginning Oct. 1, Ms. McLean will be launching a fund-raising campaign via the crowd funding site Indiegogo.com, to finance the "3 Strikes" series. For more information, visit www.3strikestheseries.com.